Sicario is highlighted by incredible performances and some of the most suspenseful scenes in any film this year. Don’t be surprised if multiple cast members (like Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro or Josh Brolin) are nominated for an Oscar; this film may also lead to a 12th nomination for veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins.
Sicario, which means “hitman” in Spanish, tells the story of Kate Macer, (Blunt) an FBI agent who is recruited by Matt Graver (Brolin) to aid in an escalating drug war at the Mexico-United States border. They are accompanied on their mission by the mysterious, menacing Alejandro (Del Toro), whose true allegiances are kept a mystery throughout the film. During their first mission, Kate realizes these men aren’t playing by the book and that they straddle the border of morality just as much as the one between nations.
Sicario is masterfully suspenseful. Everything in it is geared to have the viewer perched on the edge of their seat throughout the film. A few closed-quarters sequences are shot almost entirely with night-vision and infrared—but rather than working against the film, it makes viewers feel like they’re in the characters’ shoes. In addition, several aerial tracking shots help advance the story by following characters as they weave through the crowded streets of Juárez, Mexico.
Darkness is also used in an unconventional way. Several scenes were shot at night, and they actually look like nighttime, with no extra lighting. In one scene that shows several people walking down a hill at night, viewers get to see a stunning visual as well as a subtle analogy to the characters themselves descending into amorality. All of this amazing camera work could lead to Deakins bringing home an Oscar in 2016.
Perhaps the most troublesome issue with Sicario is the story isn’t quite as compelling or innovative as it could be. It’s a standard drug bust story, with a few beats of revenge thrown in for good measure. The plot was serviceable, but it lost me at times, because some characters’ motivations aren’t revealed until the end of the film.
Overall, however, the good far outweighs the bad in Sicario. Suspenseful scenes, incredible acting and beautiful cinematography make it a must-see.